Why I'm Never Buying Samsung Again and Why They're not Android's "Apple"
Hi Verge folks. It's my first article here on the Android Army. I know my profile pic needs some serious rotating, but trust me, it's better left that way.
Anyhow, this article is not to derail Samsung or court ire from Samsung fans. My intention is to share as to why I could not bring myself to pick up another Samsung device and perhaps find out if my issues with the Samsung phones I've owned is something that is common or if I've been a three-year consecutive victim of faulty batches. Also adds some musings on why I think Samsung will never be Android's equivalent of Apple.
A History of Lessons Not Learned
Before Samsung, my preferred OEM was Sony Ericsson. Their minimalist design philosophy and attention to design separates their phones from other OEM efforts. They also make handsome hardware and that is something that sells to me. Come 2008, I tried Samsung's Omnia i900. I was frankly new to the concept of smartphones and have shied away from Apple's iPhone as most of my peers have iPhones and I wanted to be a shade different from the common in my circle. I think they got it right and I got it wrong--big time.
The Omnia was my first smartphone, and for the price I had to pay (an arm and a leg), I felt that it didn't deliver. It was the phone that gave me the most frustrating user experience. It was laggy, was aesthetically poor in UI, was having consistent problems with wifi amid several software updates, but the most frustrating problem it has was its tendency to format my SD card and internal storage with each update. And those came without warnings. The updates come and wash away the contents of my phone. It was sheer horrible user experience. And it was the most expensive phone I ever got. This bad user experience got further magnified when I bought an iPod Touch and realized how bad the Omnia has it.
Two years later, I managed to get a Samsung Galaxy S for free from my work's mobile plan. Given that the Galaxy S was on Android, I thought it would have a better user experience in store for me. Reviews around the net were encouraging and nothing that suggests that it would be another horrorshow of a 2 years for me. But it was. The Galaxy S came with a foremost persistent lag brought by the filesystem the Koreans chose (this has a quickfix, thank you, XDA, but it persisted though to a lesser extent), force closes and consistent issue with the Facebook app (doesn't happen on my Xperia X10), a notification bar that cannot be pulled down, and most horribly, dialog boxes and software UI misspellings and general use of poor grammar. Majority of these have been fixed with the Gingerbread update, but that came a year after I owned the device. And even the Gingerbread update came with a host of bugs, albeit less annoying than the Froyo and Eclair issues that shipped with the device. Problem was, the Gingerbread update made the device less hack-friendly, rendering fixes harder to implement.
As if I ultimately didn't learn, I picked up a Galaxy Note free from my data plan (instead of the Galaxy Nexus) after trying out a friend's and feeling pleased with how Samsung got the S Pen right--it was on Gingerbread and by May, an ICS update was released, there should be no worries. Alas, one week of owning the Galaxy Note, I already had troubles with it. PowerAmp, my favorite music player, does not work on it, but that was forgivable and something that I could workaround with. My greatest problem came after the ICS update. For starters, the official ICS update bricked my Galaxy Note. I updated it using the prescribed method: that is, wait for the update and update your phone via OTA when it does arrive. That sure bricked my phone. Flushed into oblivion went the notes I took on my Galaxy Note. After I got my phone back from the repairs now running on ICS, I found it difficult to use the pen. Not even for sketching. The handwriting recognition was completely screwed and the sketching app was as quick-footed as my grandma. Soon enough, I also encountered an annoying error that it gets an error upon updating my apps, stating that the app cannot be installed in the default location, the solution to which is to uninstall and reinstall the app. For me, this is simply unacceptable, especially for Samsung's caliber. But I did expect this, somehow. Somehow a little voice inside me said that Samsung would always get it wrong somehow, somewhere.
After owning that device, I got to asking myself, Why can't Samsung ever get things right? And why am I always buying their stuff, expecting that they get it right this time, only to be surprised with my data getting flushed or with the horrible UX? Why do I keep going back to Samsung like a battered wife to her husband? Why? How come cheaper devices and theoretically less capable devices from Sony Ericsson never gave me the horrible user experience I always get somewhere with Samsung devices?
Am I the only one who has an experience this bad with Samsung's devices? Why do I keep picking up their devices, anyway?
The reason is not that hard to imagine. Samsung has always provided unbeatable internals vis-a-vis asking price. Initially, I thought I can make do with a buggy software as long as developer communities are out there to provide hot fixes for Samsung's faults. Or perhaps, it wouldn't matter what with the raw power I'll be getting. Apparently, it does matter. Their attention to raw power takes a toll on other things, such as quality control (on software) and product (chassis) design, especially when they're rushing to get the product into the market to own a share that would otherwise have been a competitor's. This has been their strategy since the Megapixel wars back with Nokia in the early 2000s. Back then, it was all about camera modules. Nokia was hard to parallel in that respect, with its nearest rival, Sony Ericsson and their Cybershot phones, losing as early as the 5MP category. Samsung came out with several 8MP module-equipped phones, and even a 12MP with the Pixon 12. But none of their phones were ever as user friendly as Nokia's. User experience has always played second fiddle to raw power in Samsung's R&D.
This has never been the case for Apple. Having seen how Apple works over their last products: they are rarely affected by what's in the ecosystem. The early iPhones came out with a 2MP camera back when Nokia was dishing 8MPs on their Symbian sliders. How stubborn of Apple to release a 3.5" screen device when 5.3" were selling well. Somehow Apple knew that changing the screen size would also affect usage, and in some cases, would result in undesirable use. A simple change of size can result in change of grip and an unpleasurable usage. Samsung has never been about user experience. They have always been about providing the most raw power at the cheapest price possible.
If anything, they might have realized this and gave more attention to the UX they ship their phones with. If anything, their new UX seems to be expressing that Samsung does know that UX is important, too. However, this effort at humanizing ICS is uninspired, amateurish, and is a great flop at best. That Nature UX that sits atop of their Galaxy S3 features a quirky water drop sound on your keypresses and it also comes along with a water ripple effect on your lockscreen--that doesn't really make for a good unlocking experience--that is, it doesn't feel like you're unlocking your phone, just drawing ripples on the screen. To further show that their attention to design and UX is still lacking, nothing else seems so "nature" about their new UX other than those two. Everything else is digital and decidedly incoherent with the supposed NATURE and natural feel of this UX.
Compare this with Apple's dedication to design and provide the best user experience possible with their devices. Or let's not stray far from Android. HTC. HTC has been doing well with their Android phones in terms of UX and chassis design. Holding a One X beside a Galaxy Nexus, the One X does not feel as big a phone as the Galaxy Nexus and is more pleasurable to hold and use. Even pitted against the Galaxy S3, the natural curves on the One X makes it easier to hold, plus the build quality of the One X is not comparable to the cheap-looking plastic in the S3. Sense also feels more cohesive from the moment you turn on your phone. The design elements HTC picked sticks to everything in their phone, not just the launcher and the settings page, but possibly everything.
The same can be said for Sony, who also does well in terms of design--software and chassis. Sure, they do not arrive to the scene in a very timely manner, but look at their attention to ergonomics: the curved back of their phones and the overall feel in the hand reminds you of their attention to design. Their very light skin, sparing use of too much color, unlike TouchWiz, makes their phone more elegant and ICS Holo-compliant. Sure their UXP skin does not have as much features as Sense or Touch Wiz, but it's more stable than TouchWiz. I am speaking having used all three skins for more than a month (2 years of TW, 2 years of Sony's UXP, and 2 months of Sense 4.0). Perhaps it's even those gimmicky features that bless TouchWiz with more bugs.
Generally, Samsung's sheer size, marketing power, carrier relations, and ability to quickly and timely dish out high-end products makes them an adversary worthy of Apple. But their approach is completely different from their competitor. They might be Android's biggest OEM, but they certainly are not Android's best OEM, certainly not Android's Apple. And until they realize that User Experience and stable software is king, I am not picking Samsung again, even if it's free on contract.
And if you, like me, got to read the whole of everything I wrote, I thank you for bearing with me and my musings.